The US Food and Drug Administration (FDA) has given its initial blessing for cultivated meat to be sold in the US. The agency announced on 16 November that California-based Upside Foods has shown that its cultured chicken filet product appears as safe to eat as conventional chicken.

The FDA has evaluated the information submitted by Upside Foods as part of a pre-market consultation for the company’s food made from cultured chicken cells and ‘has no further questions at this time about the firm’s safety conclusion’.

After clearing this initial safety hurdle, this food product – based on cell lines isolated from either adult chickens or mid-stage fertilised chicken eggs – cannot enter the US market until it also meets separate FDA and US Department of Agriculture (USDA) requirements.

‘Advancements in cell culture technology are enabling food developers to use animal cells obtained from livestock, poultry and seafood in the production of food, with these products expected to be ready for the US market in the near future,’ said the FDA’s Commissioner Robert Califf, and Susan Mayne, who directs the agency’s Center for Food Safety and Applied Nutrition.

Currently, only one company – California-based Eat Just – is approved to sell cultured meat anywhere in the world, and that is on a relatively small scale and just in Singapore. But scientists, investors and regulatory experts have predicted that such products would hit the market in other nations like the US as soon as this year.

In the US, cultivated meat is regulated by both the FDA and the USDA – the FDA oversees cell collection, cell banks, as well as cell growth and differentiation, and then the USDA assumes oversight during the cell harvesting stage to manage the post-harvest processing and labelling of human food products derived from animal cells. In addition, Upside’s final cultivated chicken product itself also must be inspected by the USDA.

Now that it has cleared the FDA’s initial safety hurdle, Upside Foods says it will now work with the USDA to obtain the remaining required approvals that will allow its cultivated chicken to be sold to consumers in the US. ‘More details on the timing of the launch will follow,’ the company said.

However, the FDA emphasises that its voluntary pre-market consultation does not constitute approval of Upside’s cultivated chicken. ‘It is always appropriate to consider all our core regulatory authorities, including those for food additives and food contaminants, and apply relevant regulatory tools to consider the safety of the food,’ notes agency spokesperson Marianna Naum.

The FDA’s action provides a green light in terms of a regulatory path to follow for the field, and it also validates that the technology is safe for the public, according to David Kaplan, a biomedical engineer at Tufts University in Massachusetts, US, who directs the school’s National Institute for Cellular Agriculture. ‘From a scientific perspective, this should also give momentum to both academic and corporate efforts to continue to move the technology forward based on quality science to generate safe and healthy foods for consumers.’